BEIJING (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - French President Emmanuel Macron said a contract with China for 184 Airbus A320 narrow-body jets would be finalised soon and that his country also had ambitions to sell A350 and A380 planes to China in coming weeks or months.
The potential A320 order, which had not been previously announced, would be worth more than US$18 billion (S$24 billion) at list prices.
"On the order for 184 A320s, it's something that will be finalised shortly," Mr Macron said during his state visit to China, adding it was confirmed to him by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"And we also have ambitions on A350 and A380 mid-range and large carriers in the weeks or months to come," Mr Macron said.
The A320s would be delivered in 2019 and 2020, a French presidency official said on condition of anonymity.
China, which purchases its jets collectively before distributing them to various carriers, now accounts for almost a quarter of the European planemaker's deliveries.
Ahead of Mr Macron's trip, sources had told Reuters that Airbus was in talks about an order for 100 or more jets. New jet orders have historically featured during such tours by French leaders.
While no deal has been finalised over the current official visit, Mr Macron said China had assured him it would respect market-share parity between Airbus and Boeing.
China regularly splits large orders between Europe and the United States to cope with its fast-expanding airline traffic, but the momentum has recently been with rival Boeing, which sold 300 jets during a visit by US President Donald Trump last year (2017).
Airbus declined to comment on Wednesday (Jan 10).
Mr Macron's announcement comes after Airbus said on Tuesday that it will accelerate production of the A320 workhorse model in China to six a month by 2020 as the European planemaker seeks to meet global demand while pursuing more orders in Asia's largest economy.
The narrow-body build rate at the Tianjin plant east of Beijing will increase from the current four planes a month, said Airbus chief operating officer Fabrice Bregier, who is part of a trade delegation led by Mr Macron.
Last month (December), China Aircraft Leasing Group Holdings agreed to buy 50 Airbus single-aisle airliners with a combined list price of US$5.42 billion. During Mr Xi's visit to Berlin in July, Airbus secured orders worth US$22 billion and said it was in talks to sell more A380 superjumbos to China.
China, expected to overtake the United States as the world's biggest aviation market by as early as 2022, is a battleground for Airbus and Boeing as the two titans seek to dominate the nation's aviation market.
Boeing has predicted China will need 7,240 new aircraft in the 20 years through 2036, making it the world's biggest single-country market worth over US$1 trillion.
Travel demand within China is expected to grow about 6 per cent annually over the next two decades, according to the US planemaker. The number of people flying to, from and within China will reach 1.5 billion by 2036, according to the International Air Transport Association.